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Although small at 5'9" and 160 pounds, Flood played every inning of the first 92 games this year, and he is currently hitting .300 and trying to get 200 hits for the third time in his career. Told to his face back in 1960 by Manager Solly Hemus, "You'll never make it," Flood has worked tirelessly to become the complete team player, and he does the small, vital things during the course of a game that multiply up to victory. Over the last three seasons he has led the team in advancing base runners into scoring position, and last year topped them with a batting average of .335.
Flood also plays a large part in keeping the spirit of the Cardinals as high as it is. Together with McCarver, Gibson and Roger Maris, he makes the Cardinal clubhouse stay alive with humor, both raucous and clever. The Cardinals thrive on the rib, and nobody is spared from it.
Although they have done it off and on for some time, the "baseball quiz" is the favorite toy of 1968, and Flood is particularly fascinated by it. "It comes from the new scoreboards in the league," he says. "Most of them put up a question and then it is answered later. Ours is different. Everybody watches each mistake we make during a game. When the game ends, we get back in the clubhouse and somebody says, 'I got a baseball quiz.' Everybody hollers, 'Yeah!' Then the guy who says he has the quiz must act out what he saw somebody do poorly. And the guy who made the mistake knows it's him right away, and he dies second by second.
"The thing to do is keep the questioning going with silly answers. 'Who failed to slide into second base?' 'Was it The Immortal Ty Cobb?' 'Nooo!' 'George Herman Whatsisname?' 'Nooo!' ' Max Patkin?' 'Nooo!' Then you give the guy's name, and sometimes you boo him and sometimes you cheer him for looking so foolish. The thing about the quiz is that the guy will probably never make the same mistake again, and that's what it is really for. To be honest, if we find a guy who can't take it, we really don't want him around."
Curt Flood came to the St. Louis Cardinals in the winter of 1957 in the first trade ever consummated by Bing Devine, the general manager who was fired by Owner Gussie Busch in 1964 but who returned to St. Louis following the resignation of Stan Musial last December.
Originally signed by Cincinnati, Flood was then converted by the Reds from the outfield to third base, but after he made 41 errors at third for Savannah the Reds gave up on him. Flood and Joe Taylor were traded to St. Louis for Marty Kutyna, Willard Schmidt and Ted Wieand. "Three guys," Los Angeles Times Columnist Jim Murray has written, "who were unknown even to the slot man at The Sporting News ."
St. Louis farmed Flood out to Omaha to start the '58 season, but after 15 games and a .340 batting average he came back up to the Cardinals. Despite his size, Flood swung for the fences, and Hemus usually used him strictly as a defensive replacement. When Hemus was fired in July of 1961 his successor, the late Johnny Keane, told Curt to go to centerfield, stay there and do the best he could as a hitter. Flood hit and hit and hit and finished the season with a .322 batting average.
"I remember those early days with the Cardinals very vividly," Flood said recently while sipping one of the several cups of coffee he consumes before almost every game. "When Hemus told me that I wouldn't make it I was as low as I could get, but I'd been told that before. Stan Musial was one of the guys who helped pick me up, helped keep me going. I always admired Musial because of what he had done and his easygoing attitude. Nothing seemed to bother him on the surface, but one day Hemus took him out, and Stan went into the clubhouse where there was a big container that held the dirty towels. It was right in the middle of the room, and he stood there and kicked it as hard as he could about 30 times. That's how much he wanted to play ball."
Flood never wanted to play anything but baseball. Although he was born in Houston, Flood's family moved to Oakland, Calif. when he was a tot, and by the age of 10 he was under the wing of George Powles, one of the best baseball coaches on the West Coast and the man who helped develop many big-league players at McClymonds High School in Oakland, including Frank Robinson and Vada Pinson.
"From the first," says Powles, "I knew Curtis was a special case. The tip-off came when he was matched against older kids. Curtis qualified quickly. When he was 10 and 11 we took him along for our Junior Legion games and he'd catch batting practice or warm up a pitcher. We'd put on a little show with him, because the customers couldn't help noticing the little guy and how clever he was. We gave him the nickname Flash—you know Flash Flood. But the name never stuck [thank goodness].